15 Feet

I was walking around downtown last Friday and managed to see a surreal sequence of people hanging out on the sidewalk (surreal at least, for Tampa) in front of the new Skypoint condo building. First I walked past skinny hipsters sprawled out on outdoor couches in front of a trendy-looking wine bar. About 15 feet later, I walked past an overweight homeless woman doing a word search on a bench crammed with grocery bags (filled with what I assumed were all her worldly possessions).

A couple questions sprang to mind: First, where the hell did this wine bar and all these hipsters come from? Second, how do both these sets of people coexist footsteps apart, seemingly oblivious to each other?

For about 4 months, I worked in downtown Tampa and frequently spent time after work aimlessly walking the city, occasionally dropping by the library or going to the Forum to buy hockey tickets. The one thing that seemed pervasive, even after big events or after 5pm when most of the workers would leave, was the homeless. I think this may explain just why Tampa’s homeless is probably the most chilled out homeless population I’ve ever encountered – they pretty much own the place.

In places like New York or Chicago, I have been harassed – even after handing over the change in my pocket. In Orlando (the only other downtown I have spent significant time in), I was once bothered by a guy who kept calling me “Mr. Wally” and wouldn’t leave until I gave him five bucks.

I’m glad that there are hipsters moving in, spending their money, and injecting some semblance of life into the place at night. But at the same time, I’m a little concerned that maybe they’ll end up displacing those who are already there after 5pm.

Yes, the blog is called “design:learning” so I’ll bring it back around to the topic: in last summer’s Interactive Media course I had to do usability studies on an instructional website, and the one that I found was gcflearnfree.org, a killer site run by Goodwill that has free instructional modules for learning basic computer and life skills. It’s a great example of the positive things that we can do in this industry.

Web-based instruction may seem like an improper delivery method for helping the homeless, but all of the homeless using computers inside John F. Germany library downtown would seem to suggest otherwise.

Photo is of the Maas Bros. Dept store, which was tore down in order to build new condos almost 3 years ago. Unsurprisingly, there are no condos there yet, just a vacant lot.

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Posted on January 12, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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